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Denial And Disaster

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Cooperative Activities – If merger is out, perhaps greater cooperation among schools within the same community may be possible, the aim being to reduce costs. Small schools, in particular, could share one executive director or fundraiser. Other possibilities are the sharing of faculty and the use of educational technology to link classrooms. In fact, I am currently working on a new initiative aimed at achieving inter-day school cooperation.

Annual Dinner – Experience shows that for many schools the annual dinner is vital for fundraising. Nonetheless, cost-cutting measures are possible, ranging from less lavish invitations to a less lavish meal, as well as restraint in the gifts presented to the honorees and a severe reduction in the customary journal which is bloated with quickly forgotten love notes to the honorees and others, with most copies thrown away before the food is fully digested and nearly all of the remainder being discarded with the Pesach cleaning.

Trips – Student trips have become ingrained in the school year, with parents picking up the ever-increasing cost, though at times schools foot part of the bill. Excluding the well-deserved eighth grade excursion to Washington and perhaps one or two other outings, trips cannot be justified at a time of fiscal hardship. Schools can save money and so can parents who can barely make ends meet.

Conventions and Conferences – I am back to Jewish Education, Inc., now from the perspective of individual schools. Whatever the justification in upbeat times for educators going to Israel at school expense to meet people they often meet on these shores, there is no excuse for this extravagance now. I know I will be pilloried for suggesting that lay leaders put their foot down and tell school principals that conventions are out this year and next and that this includes Torah Umesorah’s. It is not, in my view, halachically permissible to spend school money on such activities when faculty and staff are not being paid in a timely manner.

PTA – Parent associations can be useful adjuncts in the operation of a school by funding school-based activities that are not provided for in the budget. At times, however, the PTA attitude is “this is our money, not the school’s.” PTA leaders should consider how they can directly assist school officials who are responsible for paying faculty and other obligations.

Attitude – This list obviously does not include all that may be done to help our schools weather the darkening storm. At the end of the day, fundraising and tuition shortfalls will leave a painful budgetary gap. What is essential is the recognition that there is a crisis, that this is not a time for business as usual. Nor is it the time for denial of reality or its corollary in our religious life that faith is essential and that with faith alone Torah institutions will get by. Faculty cannot pay their bills with scrip called faith, nor are suppliers any more eager to accept this form of payment.

If a mindset takes hold in a school that there is a crisis and expenditures must be reviewed carefully, the prospect is that the school will come up with additional savings, whether in the use of e-mail instead of conventional mail or reduction of printing bills through use of the computer or energy savings and so on. If we avoid denial, we shall increase enormously the ability to get by in a responsible manner. If we are in denial, we are embracing a formula for disaster.

About the Author: Dr. Marvin Schick has been actively engaged in Jewish communal life for more than sixty years. He can be contacted at mschick@mindspring.com.

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